Seeing the Bigger Picture: Troubling Movements to End Teacher Education

Feb. 28, 2010

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), 56–65. (January/February 2010)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Movements to end teacher education by framing it as irrelevant have deep historical roots and, in recent years, have become quite commonsensical, so much so that even teacher educators struggle to reframe the debate and to make the case for their role in improving public education. This article examines three ways that social movements have worked to stratify public education over the past century, with each movement experiencing an ideological shift in response to the civil rights movements of the mid-1900s. The case of Chicago is presented as a starting point.

Chicago: A Site of Coordinated Reform by the Right

The reforms of public schooling and of teacher certification in Chicago reflect a broader movement from the Right to reshape public institutions, particularly in ways that privilege the interest of business in ways that deepen inequities based on race, social class, and other social markers. In Chicago, as elsewhere, seeing the bigger picture, and contextualizing current initiatives, requires looking historically at relevant social movements.

Three movements that have figured prominently in the reshaping of public education and of the preparation of public school teachers across the United States are neoliberalism, Christian fundamentalism, and neoconservatism. To these movements, then, this article now turns as it examines reforms of schools generally and then reforms specific to teacher preparation.

Neoliberal Movements

Neoliberalism asserts that individuals can reach their highest potential when put into competition with one another, like businesses in a so-called “free market” economy, unrestricted by top-down regulations (or, at least, unrestricted by regulations that reflect socialist tendencies to level the playing field).

In a similar way, neoliberal ideology frames public education. According to this ideology, competition should make schools better, and regulation should be kept to a minimum—or at least, the appearance of governmental regulation, since not all regulation is unwanted.

Christian Fundamentalist Movements

From its very beginnings, public education in the United States has been influenced by organized Christianity.
Re-Christianization aims to return, maintain, or otherwise increase the presence of state-sponsored religious expression and instruction in public schools.

Neoconservative Movements

Under neoconservatism, schools maintain not only racial hierarchies domestically but also cultural and nation-based hierarchies globally. The neoconservative movement in education aims to teach students not merely their individual place in U.S. social hierarchies (i.e., a racialized consciousness) but also their nation’s superior place in the world (i.e., a nationalist consciousness) and prescribes such teaching through the call for national standards.

Reframing Teacher Education

Reframing teacher education requires seeing the bigger picture, that is, seeing how attacks on teacher education often coincide with initiatives to maintain the stratification functions of public schooling, be it along lines of religion, gender, race, culture, social class, and/or other markers. Reframing teacher education requires redefining what we often take to be “common sense” in education reform.

Updated: Apr. 27, 2010